Beauty is more than Skin Deep

We first saw Rupert for the condition we are talking about early in 2013. Rupert is a lovely chap who has been seeing us for a number of years. The vet who has been treating him really looks forwards to seeing him with his owner.  Rupert had received treatment for recurring, multiple, painful ‘cysts’ on his feet between the toes which kept coming back after treatment. These aren’t really cysts and are more correctly called furuncles. The most common cause is deep bacterial infection and some breeds are predisposed to getting these because their short hair shafts are forced backwards into the skin and cause inflammation which then attracts secondary infection. So you can see that just treating the infection may make them better but once the antibiotics have stopped they come back again.

They start off as red areas of skin between the digits which become papules and then large, shiny nodules. They are often very painful and can rupture and bleed. The photograph shows one of Rupert’s cysts.

Other things can cause them including trauma, foreign bodies, tumours, skin mites and allergies. So the challenge is to make a correct diagnosis with tests and then prescribe the correct treatment. Recurring problems are often caused by inappropriate treatment; too short a course, wrong dose and wrong drug. Recurrence can also occur if the dog has an allergy or an underlying problem like underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).

After various trials and tests we eventually diagnosed Rupert with ATOPIC DERMATITIS or ATOPY.

Atopy is a primary allergy to environmental proteins (house dust mites, pollens, spores). It is actually a really common disease in dogs and cats, some are affected all year round and some just during the summer months (seasonal). The allergens can be inhaled or gain entrance through the skin (so we often see the allergy affecting the face and ears, feet and belly (friction), armpits, groin, skin folds (where pollens etc . can be rubbed in). Interdigital furuncles are a less common presentation. Before we can make a diagnosis of atopy we have to rule out other causes of skin disease (flea saliva allergy, mites, primary infections, food allergy etc.). So we will often do skin scrapes, take swabs, may take hair samples or biopsies. We may even recommend allergy tests or food trials.

Once we know what we are dealing with we can then treat the problem. Atopy isn’t curable but it is very controllable and there are many options – oil and other supplements, antihistamines, steroids, antibiotics, medicated shampoos, desensitizing vaccines, allergen avoidance etc.

We treated Rupert with antibiotics for the secondary infection but used a modern ‘wonder-drug’ called ATOPICA to treat his atopy. As the condition is worse at certain times of year he still needs occasional treatment with antibiotics but has generally been controlled well with ATOPICA. This drug is ‘cyclosporine’ which works on the part of the immune system which is over-reacting with atopy. It is far safer to use this long term than steroids and it is probably the most effective treatment we have for atopy. The photograph shows Rupert’s skin after treatment for the cyst.

Skin conditions are the commonest reason why a dog or cat presents at our surgeries. They can often take time to work out the correct diagnosis and need lots of commitment from you, the owner, to effectively treat them. This commitment can sometimes also be financial – many tests can be expensive as can the treatments. Always consider purchasing Insurance for Veterinary fees when you buy a pet. You may think that having a good veterinary surgeon who loves your pet nearly as much as you do and effectively treats them represents good value for money. There are many though, who may find it difficult to meet the costs associated with extensive tests and on-going treatment, but they would find it much easier to meet a monthly Insurance premium for a ‘whole of life’ Insurance Policy which gives them that piece of mind that they will be able to seek the best attention and treatment should their pet ever need it.